There's no stopping Americans from getting good food. With over 1 million restaurants to choose from, there will always be something new to interest diners' palates.
This is good news for foodies but a scary fact for restaurant owners.
Why should you care about engaging your customers? The quick answer is that it's your only way to succeed in the restaurant industry.
According to research, engaged customers are 28% and 56% more likely to visit their favorite fast food and casual dining restaurant, respectively, every month. Although diners want to try something new, they always go back to the restaurants that captured their hearts and taste buds.
Customer engagement refers to the efforts businesses (in this case, restaurants) take to establish a long-term connection with customers that, in turn, encourages repeat purchases and cultivates loyalty to your establishment. It includes interactions customers have with a brand, such as seeking out reviews or recommendations, following a company's social media pages, and sending messages to ask for prices or menus.
While technology has opened the doors to endless marketing opportunities, as a restaurant owner, how do you know which app, tool or social media site you should dedicate your time and attention to?
In this article, we explore what tactics you can use to build and maintain customer engagement.
1. Keep them updated.
Social media is definitely your best friend when it comes to raising brand awareness and customer engagement. Based on the 2019 Restaurant Success Report, 91% of restaurants use Facebook and 78% use Instagram to market their products. Social media allows you to tempt and delight your customers.
Here are some social media strategies that restaurant marketers swear by:
- Create a consistent voice. You want people to remember your business for its unique qualities. By using the same emojis in each post, brand hashtags, the same frames for your images, etc., you can establish brand awareness through consistent messaging and imagery.
- Share customer-generated content. If your customers have valuable feedback or comments, share them on your social media page.
- Initiate interactions. Ask fun questions and encourage responses from your followers. Always reply to their comments. It's a great way to connect with your customers on a personal level.
- Create a stir by posting unusual, interesting content. Share something unique about your restaurant, menu, etc. Mix it up so that your content is varied, and maintain a set schedule to post content regularly.
2. Post mouthwatering photos and videos.
A picture paints a thousand words, so they say. In the restaurant industry, the use of mouthwatering photos is a must. While you can greatly benefit from hiring a professional photographer to take images of your food products, your phone camera, ample natural light and good plating are often enough to create compelling images. Use this strategy on your social media pages to get customers to crave what your restaurant offers.
Aside from photos, invest in video marketing. After all, 45% of people spend an hour or more on Facebook or YouTube each week watching videos.
Try these video marketing techniques to amp up your sales:
- Record client testimonials. What better way to promote your restaurant than through word of mouth?
- Show off what you do best. Be authentic. Highlight what makes your restaurant unique.
- Tell your story. Talk about how you started, your struggles and your successes.
- Make recipe videos. Of course, you don't have to share your secret recipe, but customers will appreciate learning some cooking techniques from an expert chef.
3. Use web push notifications.
Marketing is all about delivering a message. Web push notifications (WPN) are one of the latest innovations in the digital marketing industry that allow users to subscribe to notifications from a specific website through their browser.
What makes WPNs different from traditional browser notifications? Push notifications can be delivered at any time, regardless of what tabs are open. They also work on mobile browsers. These notifications appear on the user's phone (through the notifications tray) just as any app would. WPNs are an easy way to capture people's attention and respond to your calls to action.
Here's how you can use WPNs to boost customer engagement:
- Schedule your notifications strategically. Using an all-in-one marketing platform takes the hassle out of sending notifications manually. There's a host of services you can choose from.
- Give users a chance to opt out. This empowers customers with the choice of receiving or avoiding your messages. By letting customers opt out, you're not likely to engender bad feelings about you or your restaurant.
- Craft compelling messages (offers). Your message should be unique and interesting. It should also convey the right emotion.
- Segment your notifications. The messages you send should be relevant to your different customers. Segment your users based on different parameters. For example, create different lists for your lunch patrons, your dinner customers, etc.
4. Reach out via email.
Never underestimate the power of email marketing in boosting customer engagement. Use emails to send offers, update people with new items in your menu, invite them to events, etc.
Here are some suggestions to make email marketing successful:
- Send personalized promotions. As with web push notifications, you want to segment your list to create content that your various target audiences will find valuable.
- Make your email brief yet powerful.
- Send newsletters. Take this opportunity to promote your brand by sharing helpful content.
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5. Be responsive.
Part of being active on social media is being responsive to customers' needs. If they ask a question, answer them right away. This is not just crucial to marketing; it is also an important aspect of customer service. Responding to their comments and messages makes customers feel valued, which is a critical driver of engagement.
With so many communication channels available, it's easy to overlook important messages and inquiries from customers. Follow these tips to enhance your responsiveness online:
- Set autoresponders. The main benefit of benefit of using autoresponders is time. It saves you time – big time! If you set things up correctly, you can send important messages (such as welcome emails and acknowledgment messages) without doing it manually. You can even send birthday greetings to followers or automatically send them emails about new items you've added to your menu or an upcoming event at your restaurant.
- Manage your communication channels effectively. It is important to allocate time each day to respond to people's messages. Maybe they're asking about your menu, booking a reservation or simply looking to tell you how awesome your food was. Regardless of their message, consumers want to hear back from you.
6. Invest in a professional, user-friendly website.
It may seem like an unnecessary expense, but a website offers several benefits to your restaurant business. Social media platforms have limitations. Your website, however, is an extension of your restaurant. You own it. Therefore, you have absolute freedom to manage your marketing efforts on your restaurant's website. Through your website, you can advertise your menu, showcase the dining experience you offer, and publish detailed write-ups about your business, customer testimonials and more.
To get the most from your website, make sure it contains the following:
- An easy-to-read menu with vibrant images and prices that are clearly indicated on the menu
- Featured food items (with a short, vivid description for each item, including the nutrition information)
- Social media icons that link to your official pages.
- Contact information (physical address, email address, telephone numbers)
- Newsletter sign-up
- A blog
On the last point, you should specifically launch a blog as part of your website. Write interesting content about your restaurant, your menu, etc. A blog will also optimize your website so you show up higher in search results.
7. Give people positive experiences.
Experiential marketing is a great technique for engaging customers and turning them into loyal patrons. Today's consumers are looking for unique experiences and willing to pay top dollar for it.
As a restaurant marketer or business owner, your goal is to provide personalized experiences to your customers that appeal to their senses and leave them wanting more.
Use the following techniques to employ experiential marketing into your online marketing strategy:
- Be visually appealing. Post images of your food, the restaurant, your ingredients, even the quality of the service. The visual experience is intoxicating for diners. Give them what they want with the images on your website.
- Go live. Use Facebook Live to drive interaction and engagement. Twitter, Meerkat, Periscope and other social media sites also let you record live video.
- Get interactive. Whether it's through video campaigns, contests or giveaways, you can drive more interaction among customers.
8. Send birthday emails to your customers.
Make your patrons feel special on their special day by sending them a birthday greeting via email. Here's the thing – birthday emails have 481% higher transaction rates than promotional emails.
Here's how you do it:
- Set up an email campaign. Collect customers' birthdates by asking for this information when they sign up for your email list. You can also collect this information through your website or social media pages.
- Use automation. Several email marketing apps let you create automated campaigns. Simply draft your message, create a name for the campaign, and select your audience. You can also automatically schedule these campaigns to go out each day.
- Provide an enticing offer with your birthday wishes. It can be a freebie at your restaurant or a special discount.
9. Host a virtual tour of your restaurant.
Excite customers more by letting them take a peek into your restaurant – its beautiful interior, the food you prepare, your amazing staff and the quality of services you provide.
As part of your virtual tour, highlight the ambiance. Placing a strong focus on your restaurant's ambiance may do more to boost your business than using photos alone. Also, incorporate elements of storytelling into your tour. Share the history and evolution of your business.
10. Nurture your loyal customers.
Did you know that 80% of your revenue is generated by 20% of your repeat customers? Customer loyalty is considered a critical factor in business growth by 70% of businesses.
A loyalty program is another way to increase customer engagement. Make your most loyal customers, the ones who frequent your restaurant, feel more valued by offering special privileges, such as exclusive discounts.
Here are other interesting loyalty programs you can offer:
- A free entree or drink on a customer's birthday
- Special discounts for seniors and military personnel
- A mobile app that allows customers to place takeout orders, make reservations, and receive updates and special offers in one place
By incorporating these 10 strategies, you can significantly boost customer engagement and drive more sales to your restaurant business.